Understanding Meta's 0.4% Yield and Its Growth Potential

Dividend-loving investors worldwide woke up with exciting news on Friday, as Facebook parent Meta Platforms, Inc. (META) announced its first-ever quarterly dividend and authorized a $50 billion share buyback program.

The company will pay a cash dividend of 50 cents per share on March 26 to shareholders of record as of February 22, joining other peers, including Apple Inc. (AAPL), Microsoft Corporation (MSFT), and Oracle Corporation (ORCL), which have regular payouts. META’s board intends to issue a cash dividend on a quarterly basis.

“Introducing a dividend just gives us a more balanced capital return program and some added flexibility in how we return capital in the future,” Meta’s Chief Financial Officer Susan Li told analysts on its earnings call.

META’s annual dividend of $2 translates to a yield of 0.4% at the prevailing share price. The stock finished nearly 20% higher to $474.99 on Friday after reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter and full-year 2023 earnings.

The average yield for a dividend-paying stock in the S&P 500 is nearly 2%. Meta’s dividend payout is lower than that rate; however, companies generally start small. Now, investors can look forward to its dividend growth and stock gains.

Looking at Microsoft, the company initiated its cash dividend on January 16, 2003. Its annual dividend was $0.08 per share, which resulted in a yield of about 0.3%. A year following the dividend declaration, MSFT’s stock was up 10%, and the annual dividend for 2024 was raised to $0.16. Currently, the company pays a quarterly dividend of $0.75.

Talking about Apple, it stopped paying cash dividends in 1995 but then declared again in January 2013. Adjusting for all the splits, cash dividends in 2013 translated to an annualized yield of nearly 1.4%. A year after the dividend restart, AAPL’s stock was approximately 24% up as the company continued payouts. Since the restart, Apple has paid a total of around $34 per share.

Dividends are typically welcomed by shareholders and signal management’s confidence about the company’s future growth. Moreover, initial dividend payouts open up to investors who only hold stock in dividend payers.

Further, Meta’s recently released report marked the fourth quarter of the company’s self-described “year of efficiency,” which founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in February 2023. The company’s turnaround strategy involved layoffs and other cuts to spending, which in turn ended up being a successful effort to reverse the previous year’s revenue declines and share price weakness.

Outstanding Last Reported Financials

For the fourth quarter that ended December 31, 2023, META reported revenue of $39.17 billion, an increase of 24.7% year-over-year. The revenue surpassed analysts’ estimate of $40.11 billion. The company’s revenue from the Advertising segment grew 23.8% year-over-year, and its revenue from the Family of Apps segment rose 24.2%.

Meanwhile, META’s total costs and expenses reduced by 7.9% year-over-year to $23.73 billion. Its operating margin more than doubled to 41%, a clear sign that several cost-cutting measures are boosting profitability.

Facebook parent Meta’s income from operations rose 156% from the prior year’s period to $16.38 billion. Its net income increased 201.3% from the year-ago value to $14.02 billion. The company posted earnings per share attributable to Class A and Class B common stockholders of $5.33, compared to the consensus estimate of $1.76, and up 202.8% year-over-year.

As of December 31, 2023, META’s cash and cash equivalents stood at $41.86 billion, compared to $14.68 billion as of December 31, 2022. The company’s total assets were $229.62 billion versus $185.73 billion as of December 31, 2022.

Family daily active people (DAP) came in at 3.19 billion on average for December 2023, up 8% year-over-year. Family monthly activity people (MAP) was 3.98 billion as of December 31, 2023, an increase of 6% year-over-year.

Also, Facebook daily active users (DAUs) and Facebook monthly active users (MAUs) were 2.11 billion on average and 3.07 billion as of December 31, 2023, up 6% and 3% year-over-year, respectively.

As of December 31, 2023, the tech giant completed the data center initiatives and the employee layoffs, along with the facilities consolidation initiatives. META’s headcount was 67,317 at the end of the year 2023, a decline of 22% year-over-year.

“We had a good quarter as our community and business continue to grow,” said CEO Zuckerberg. “We’ve made a lot of progress on our vision for advancing AI and the metaverse.”

Fiscal 2024 Outlook

For the first quarter of 2024, META expects total revenue to be in the range of $34.50-37 billion. For the full year 2024, the management expects total expenses to be in the range of $94-99 billion, unchanged from the previous outlook.

The company anticipates full-year capital expenditures to be in the range of $30-37 billion, an increase of $2 billion in the high end of its prior range. Meta expects growth to be driven by investments in servers, including AI and non-AI hardware and data centers, and it plans to ramp up construction on sites with its previously announced new data center architecture.

META’s updated outlook reflects its evolving understanding of its AI capacity demands as the company anticipates what will be needed for the next generations of foundational research and product development.

Ramping up Efforts in AI and Metaverse

Meta is making consistent efforts to secure its place in the increasing AI arms race. Last month, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that META plans to build its own artificial general intelligence, known as AGI, which is artificial intelligence that meets or exceeds human intelligence in almost every area. He added that the company further plans to open it up to developers.

In a video posted to Meta’s social network Threads, Zuckerberg said building the best AI for chatbots, creators, and businesses requires enhanced advancement in AI across the board. “Our long term vision is to build general intelligence, open source it responsibly, and make it widely available so everyone can benefit,” he said in a post on Threads.

The tech giant announced building out its infrastructure to accommodate this push to get AI into products, and it planned to have about 350,000 H100 GPUs (graphics processing units) from chip designer NVIDIA Corporation (NVDA) by the end of this year. In combination with equivalent chips from other suppliers, Meta will have around 600,000 total GPUs by the end of the year, Zuckerberg said.

He added that the company plans to grow and bring its two major AI research groups – FAIR and GenAI – together to accelerate its work. He further said he believes that Meta’s vision for AI and the AR/VR-driven metaverse are connected.

“By the end of the decade, I think lots of people will talk to AIs frequently throughout the day using smart glasses like what we’re building with Ray Ban Meta.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement is one of the company’s biggest pledges to double down on AI. Earlier last year, after the viral success of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Zuckerberg announced that Meta is creating a new “top-level product group” to “turbocharge” the company’s work on AI tools.

Since then, Meta has introduced tools and information aimed at assisting users understand how AI influences what they see on its apps. The company has launched a commercial version of its Llama large language model (LLM), ad tools that can generate image backgrounds from text prompts, and a “Meta AI” chatbot that can be accessed directly via its Ray-Ban smart glasses.

In his posts last month, Meta CEO said the company is currently training a third version of the Liama model.

Impressive Historical Growth

Over the past three years, META’s revenue and EBITDA grew at CAGRs of 16.2% and 15%, respectively. The company’s net income and EPS rose at respective CAGRs of 10.3% and 13.8% over the same timeframe. Its levered free cash flow improved at 25.6% CAGR over the same period.

Moreover, the social networking company’s total assets increased at a CAGR of 13% over the same timeframe.

Favorable Analyst Estimates

Analysts expect META’s revenue for the first quarter (ending March 2024) to grow 25.3% year-over-year to $35.88 billion. The consensus EPS estimate of $4.25 for the ongoing quarter indicates a 93.3% year-over-year increase. Moreover, Meta has topped consensus revenue and EPS estimates in each of the trailing four quarters, which is remarkable.

Furthermore, Street expects Meta’s revenue and EPS for the fiscal year (ending December 2024) to grow 17.3% and 32.4% year-over-year to $158.20 billion and $19.69, respectively. For the fiscal year 2025, the company’s revenue and EPS are expected to increase 11.2% and 15.3% from the previous year to $175.98 billion and $22.70, respectively.

Solid Profitability

META’s trailing-12-month gross profit margin of 80.72% is 64.5% higher than the 49.07% industry average. Likewise, the stock’s trailing-12-month EBIT margin and net income margin of 36.33% and 28.98% are considerably higher than the industry averages of 8.47% and 3.50%, respectively.

In addition, the stock’s trailing-12-month ROCE, ROTC, and ROTA of 28.04%, 17.84% and 17.03% favorably compared to the respective industry averages of 4.09%, 3.52%, and 1.43%. Also, its trailing-12-month levered FCF margin of 23.52% is 202.7% higher than the industry average of 7.77%.

Bottom Line

Facebook parent META recently reported a big beat on earnings and revenue for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2023. The company, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, also announced its first-ever dividend of $0.50 per share and authorized a $50 billion share buyback program. Dividends generally signal management’s confidence about the company’s future growth.

Moreover, Meta’s market capitalization last month surpassed $1 trillion. The company last exceeded this mark in the market cap in 2021, when it was still known as Facebook.

Meta’s “year of efficiency” and several cost-cutting measures paid off in a significant way and offered a sweetener for investors, sending its shares higher. The stock is up nearly 38% over the past month and has gained more than 150% over the past year.

2023 was a pivotal year for the social networking giant, where it raised its operating discipline, delivered solid execution across its product priorities, and significantly improved ad performance for the businesses that rely on its services. In 2024, the company further seems well-positioned to build on its progress in each of these areas while advancing its ambitious efforts in AI and Reality Labs.

Given META’s robust financials, accelerating profitability, dividend initiation, and solid growth outlook, primarily as it seeks to strengthen its position in AI, it could be wise to invest in this stock now.